Pop Culture

What The Hell Is This Pizzagate Thing, Anyway?

Let us explain why this new conspiracy theory is actually pretty frightening.

Last week, America became familiar with a weirdly complex news phenomenon known as "Pizzagate." Considering our increasingly surrealistic political landscape, this issue was not treated with the perplexity it probably deserves. As more pizza places become the victims of death threats due to the scandal, it's about time someone asks: what the actual hell is going on here?

Let's start from the beginning.

How did this start?
So, towards the end of the election lots of leaked emails from inside the Hillary Clinton campaign were released to the public. They were full of oblique references to pizza and local Washington D.C. pizza places that many right-wing conspiracy theorists on neo-nazi sub-Reddits assumed were some kind of coded message. Somehow, through the extremist echo chamber of forums like /r/Pizzagate (where it was often quite difficult to tell what was trolling and what was an actual theory), it was concluded that the Democrats were running a secret child sex-slave trafficking organization out of various Italian restaurants in our nation's capital.

That doesn't make any sense. Is there anything in reality that this could have been based on?

Mostly, no. Apparently, John Podesta, one of Hillary's higher-ups, vaguely looks like someone who was at one point suspected of child abduction. Though, the fact that it's him has officially been debunked by The New York Times, Snopes, and the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.

So, who cares what a bunch of crazy people on the Internet think?

Well, we shouldn't, really. But the conspiracy theory went viral, a symptom of American's new favorite buzzwords: fake news. In fact, according to The Verge: "A recent report in The Washington Post claims a 'disproportionate' amount of tweets about Pizzagate come from places like the Czech Republic and Vietnam, and many of the accounts spreading these theories are bots."

Because of the (calculated) virality of the story, an actual armed gunman showed up to a "suspicious" pizza place to personally investigate the situation and opened fire.

Woah.

I know, right? Now, Hillary Clinton herself has had to address the situation, albeit in a sideways kind of way: "This is not about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk, lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days to do their jobs, contribute to their communities," she said of "fake news" which contributed to the spread of the scoop. "It is a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly."

Ok but it's over now, right?

No. Even more recently, a local hipster spot named Roberta's in Brooklyn was targeted with death threats because someone had suggested it might be connected to the other Pizzagate locations (because they had some funny Illuminati-themed pizza murals on their walls).

Well, what now?

Unclear! Surely the problem of "fake news" is a bigger one than we all know how to tackle immediately. Despite the debunkings, it's not really known if anyone deep into the theory will change their minds. Similarly, we're not sure that death threats to pizza places are going to stop anytime soon.

At the very least, one of Donald Trump's transition team members was ousted for supporting and propagating the continued existence of the theory.

Wait, but why did this "fake news" go viral in the first place?

Also unclear. Some people theorize that obscure sites make money from getting clicks by posting articles with outrageous headlines. Other people think it was an attempt to disparage Clinton's crew.

So, like, real facts doesn't matter anymore and we all live in hell?

Correct.

[Photo: Getty Images]

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